Is It Ever Wrong to Work Hard?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Ephesians 4:28

Hard Work, Good Work: Part 3

In yesterday's reflection, I pointed out that the Greek verb translated in Ephesians 4:28 as "must work" is not neutral. It actually means "become weary, become tired, exert oneself, work hard, toil, struggle." In other words, thieves, and by implication, all of us, should work hard, even to the point of feeling tired. This is part of God's call to us as well as God's gift for us. Most of us can relate to this, because we have experienced the sense of satisfaction that comes when we work hard for a worthy purpose. For example, when I spend several hours writing Daily Reflections, I can feel fatigued. But I also feel content in the knowledge that I have used my gifts and strengths for good.

But, as you read yesterday's exhortation to work hard, you might have felt uneasy. Perhaps you worried that my advocacy of hard work might play into the unhealthy workaholism that plagues much of our society today. Many of us seem, at first glance, to work way too hard. We sacrifice our health, our families, and our discipleship on the altar of excessive work.

Technology, which can help us work more effectively and efficiently, also promotes unhealthy workaholism. Electricity allows us to work after the sun goes down. Digital technology welcomes work into our homes, churches, and family dinners. Millions upon millions of people check their email while they're in bed, often as the last thing they do before sleep and the first thing they do upon waking. Talk about work invading our personal lives!

Yet, I'm not sure I would want to describe this lamentable situation as a matter of working too hard. Rather, it seems to be more a problem of working too much. Many of us simply don't know how to stop working. We don't have boundaries that keep us from working all the time. The fact that God rested a whole day after working six days and then instructed us to do the same hasn't made a difference in our lives. The fact that Jesus escaped from his work into the wilderness in order to be alone for rest and prayer doesn't seem to command our imitation. Rather, we have chosen to worship the idol, not of hard work, but of endless work.

I could say a lot more about when and why it might be wrong to work too hard. For me, sometimes my hard work reflects a lack of trust in God rather than an offering of myself to him. Yet, I am convinced that many of us need to learn, not to work less hard, but rather to work less hours. We need to discover, as my friend Greg Jones says, the God-given rhythms of work, rest, and play. By God's grace, may we learn to work hard, to rest regularly, and to play joyfully.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you work too much? If so, why? If not, why not? Can you think of times when your life was in better balance? What helped you to establish healthy, godly rhythms for living?

PRAYER: Gracious God, thank you for creating me with the ability to work. Thank you for the gift of good work, work that uses my gifts and makes a difference in the world. Thank you for the opportunity to work hard, for the joy that comes in the working and the satisfaction that comes afterwards.

Yet, Lord, I must confess that sometimes I work too much. I can try to sneak in a few extra hours of work on what is supposed to be my day of rest. I can let work invade my sleep, my prayer, and my family time. I can easily heed the siren call of my smartphone, with its invitation to read email or answer texts. Forgive me, Lord, when I fail to stop working in order to rest.

Help me, I pray, to work hard, yes, but also to stop when it's time to stop. Give me wisdom to put away the distractions of endless work. Teach me to be fully present to others and to you. Help me to discover the gift of rest and the joy of play. Amen.


Pencils Down

Quitting time would be easier if deadlines, insecurity, perfectionism, and expectations disappeared. We could simply lay our pencils down and walk away from the task in peace. Unfortunately, this is not our experience. The urgent trumps the important. The urgent trumps the clock, too. “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for God grants sleep to those he loves.” Conceptually appealing, yet realistically challenging when pressure knocks on the door, the wisdom of the Psalmist often fails to change our ways.

This article is part of a series at The High Calling called Pencils Down. Our hope is that in everything, from to-do lists to identity, we will be encouraged to make small advances toward stopping when it’s time to stop.

Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in The H. E. Butt Family Foundation.